Let's Get Back To Basics

A Review of the Florida College Lectures 1990

Art Thompson

lorida College in Tampa occupies a very special place in my life. I went to school there. Met my wife, Alice Ann, there. Our firstborn John Alton was born while we were there. All three of our children attended. Our daughter met her husband there. Over the years, my wife and I, along with our families, have supported the College in a number of ways. We still do. I defend the right of Florida College to exist.

My warm feelings about the school have not blinded me to its occasional frailties and foibles. Nor do I underestimate the influence of the views of its Bible faculty on the religious beliefs of Christians around the world, specifically those in "conservative" churches of Christ. I believe that scripture does not show us the preacher system and some other things that the College promulgates and nourishes.

I say these things as a preamble, because I want no one to misunderstand my personal feelings about the college and the dedicated people who labor there.

The theme of the 1990 Lectures was Reemphasizing Bible Basics in Current Controversies. Though not surprised about the subject matter, I was startled at the timing of the presentation of this theme. I had thought that these topics would be ignored for a few years longer.

Someone close to the decision-makers at the College told me that the original title for this year's Lecture program was Back to Bible Basics. But, he said, after some discussion, it was re-worded because of its implication that they had left the "basics" and needed to return to them.

Charles Holt is like a lightening rod. For many years he has drawn to himself both the flashes and the thunders of those who oppose either his views, his rhetoric or both. Some of the flashings and thunderings of Lecture week at Florida College were "aimed" at him and The Examiner.

I believe that I can see the hand of the Lord in it all. When The Examiner was started, Holt and a few writers and supporters were like voices crying in the wilderness, questioning the traditions of the church organization. Many adopted a strategy for dealing with questions raised by The Examiner. That strategy was to ignore them, believing that both the questions and the paper would soon go away. Many of those who regularly attend the FC Lectures and those who publish or write in religious papers themselves, appeared to be among those strategists.

But the questions are too important and the number of Christians asking them is growing too fast to be ignored. Thus, it is pleasing to note that such an august forum as the annual Lectures at Florida College devoted some time this year just four years after The Examiner began to some of the questions raised in this paper. I personally rejoice and praise the Lord that among our "conservative" brothers, the topics discussed and the questions raised at last are receiving the attention and discussion which they warrant. (Will those in other restoration churches lag far behind?)

I do not mean to imply that this Lecture program thoroughly discussed these topics, nor that it was done the way I would have done it. It didn't and it wasn't. I was disappointed at several things about the way it was handled. Of course, each of us always has a better idea, don't we?

During a forum, Clinton Hamilton, a brother and former Dean of the College, expressed one of my own thoughts well when he referred to past Lectureships at Freed-Hardeman and other colleges where the entire Lectureship was devoted to one or several related topics. Speakers with differing views were invited to speak on the same Lecture program. He said that controversial issues were aired fully. In the earlier days of Florida College, its leadership dealt with issues in the same, even-handed way. Sadly, this year they did not.

Neither have they dealt properly with the views of Homer Hailey, their former Vice-President and head of the Bible Department. This brother's views of marriage, divorce and remarriage do not coincide with the views of some who have influence at Florida College. Thus he has become a pariah among those with whom he served and those whom he taught through so many selfless years.

I would like to encourage the decision-makers at Florida College to dedicate a full Lecture program to marriage and divorce questions and to air as many "sides" as can be responsibly identified. And to do it soon.

Only in a very broad sense were the subjects raised by The Examiner discussed.

I am sorry to say that several of the peakers indicated through their references and quotations that they had not read past the second issue of four years ago. Though most claimed to read the paper, they did not accurately represent the views of the editor nor any who write in its pages. In my opinion, that's a shameful error and it needs to be corrected.

I would like to encourage open discussion on these matters. But let's discuss the scriptures themselves not the people involved. Certainly we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Now, just after I say something noble like that, I must point out one of the occurrences which I believe was both a tactical and moral error. The person who castigated Charles Holt with the strongest language and style was Maurice Barnett, of Phoenix. Even though he was their featured speaker, he did not accurately reflect the views you have read in these pages. What a shame! What did shock me was his temporary alliance of mutual convenience with Florida College which has left me with my mouth hanging open in disbelief!

In the introduction of Maurice Barnett in the printed Lecture Book (and echoed from the podium), it was pointed out with a great deal of care and clarity:

 

.... Due to his personal convictions and in order for him to speak to us with clear conscience, the Bible faculty suggested to him that he was at liberty to participate under his own stated conditions. Brother Barnett has scriptural objections to some arrangements of schools, such as Florida College, and of lecture programs, such as this one. It is not a personal matter. He has great admiration for people connected with Florida College. His appearance here is not to be considered an endorsement of the school or the lecture program. He has agreed to be on the program because of the importance of the subject. (Reemphasizing Bible Basics in Current Controversies, Curry, Florida College Bookstore, 1990, P. xii)

To put it bluntly, the College leadership arranged for someone from outside their own "camp" to come and wield an axe on The Examiner! Barnett conscientiously believes that (1) the existence of the College itself to teach the Bible is a violation of scripture, and (2) that, therefore, the very Lecture Program in which he participated is sinful! How could either side have arranged this without violating their own consciences? Because of "the importance of the subject"? Is any subject that important? Was it that important to both of them to try to stop efforts of The Examiner? (Consider Acts 5:38-42).

Is this a case where they have prostituted themselves with each other?

Leaders at the school may not have seen it that way and may have had a different agenda entirely. If so, I have confidence that they will make every attempt to correct this compounded error.

After hearing the misinformation about his beliefs, Charles Holt requested thirty minutes on the program during which he could speak for himself. (He had not been invited to speak at all even though he was the center of some of these discussions and was present throughout.) He was granted 15 minutes, followed by a rebuttal from Maurice Barnett and a general discussion. Following that, both Clinton Hamilton and FC President Bob Owen remarked about how "fair" they had been to Charles Holt by letting him speak. Apparently, they saw this as fairly presenting "both" sides of these topics.

The Brighter Side

Probably the single most significant event that could come out of the Lectures will be the publication of a Special Edition of The Examiner in collaboration with Florida College. One brother, Bill Hammontree, who is a member of their board of directors and was their Business Manager for many years, agreed that he would financially underwrite such a Special Edition to carry a discussion of "both" sides of several questions. Thanks to his generosity, such an Edition is possible and plans are underway to accomplish this.

Very broadly, the subjects to be addressed will be: 1) The Ekklesia; 2) Elders; and 3) Worship. Either some of the FC Bible Department faculty will represent them or three men they choose.

Writers are being selected to write on each of these subjects. The format will be straight-forward discussions of the scriptures dealing with each subject. The discussions will not be in written debate format, since that format does not lend itself well to a single edition of a publication.

At this time, all the details have not yet been solidified, but as soon as they are we will attempt to publish them. The plan is to send copies, not only to all our subscribers, but also to an equivalent number of the subscribers of papers edited by some of our brothers who share the view of FC on these doctrines.

We solicit your prayers for this effort. The major purpose of the Special Edition of The Examiner will be to encourage an "examination" of the things each of us believes, by comparing our practices and beliefs to what is taught in scriptures. This will further our purposes much more than we ever anticipated.

Perhaps, also, in the near future, we can participate in a Florida College Lectureship that will "examine everything carefully, hold fast to that which is good." Please pray for it.

God works in a mysterious way His wonders to perform!